The pasta at Santisi Imports in Palmer Township is so authentic, the Italian Embassy came calling.
The embassy in Washington, D.C., discovered the line of Pastificio Vicodomini artisan pasta when its Lt. Colonel Alessio Grasso was visiting the town of Castel San Giorgio in Campania, Italy. He tried the pasta and wanted to bring back a large shipment. The company suggested he go through their Pennsylvania importer instead.
“In our post as diplomats, we have a lot of people visiting our house for official dinner and we always offer the best of Italian foods, traditions and cuisine to our guests,” Grasso says in an email. “This is why I chose Vicidomini-Santisi pasta to represent Italy in my house and in my embassy.”
The pasta was used for the embassy’s Armed Forces Party on Nov. 4.
Phil Noto, the co-owner and founder of Santisi Imports, says they sent about 286 pounds of pasta to the embassy, after the embassy verified the authenticity of the product.
“We were really honored that the Italian embassy would come to us,” Noto says. “It was our honor to supply them.”
Noto says the store carries 39 different shapes of the Vicidomini pasta, as well as five gluten-free varieties from another supplier. Vicidomini has been in business in Italy since 1812. Noto says Vicidomini prides itself on drying pasta for three to four days in the air, without adding anything artificial.
Sharing the best
Mario Vicidomini, of the family-run business of the same name, has since become a partner with Santisi and works with Noto, and Noto’s son-in-law, Vince Sciascia, to find authentic Italian products to import.
“We work hard to find the best of Italy for the Americans,” Vicodomini says in a phone interview from Italy.
Noto’s business started as a hobby and initially just featured olive oil grown by his Sicilian relatives and dried oregano from Italy. In the beginning, Santisi Imports only sold wholesale. In 2011, it added its Palmer Township warehouse, tasting room and showroom.
Santisi sells olive oil and other products to local restaurants, including Blue in Bethlehem Township, Melt in Upper Saucon Township, Edge, Twisted Olive and Tre Scalini, all in Bethlehem, Sagra Bistro in Hellertown, DeFranco Catering in Washington Township, Pa., and Pizza Doro in Easton. The pasta line is also sold to Seasons Olive Oil & Vinegar Taproom in Bethlehem. In 2013, the business opened to retail customers.
The product line has expanded to include other Italian specialties — but the determining factor is that all the featured products come from small, family, artisan producers. And Noto has visited each one personally.
“Everything that’s here I’ve seen made in Italy,” Noto says.
Bringing Italy home
Santisi’s shelves are stocked with balsamic vinegars and balsamic condiment (which is used more in Italy as it’s more utilitarian and less acidic than the vinegar) from Modena. A porcini mushroom cream is shipped from the Italian-France border, cheese hails from Emilia-Romagna, gluten-free pasta comes from Lazio; other pastas, anchovies and tomatoes come from the Amalfi coast. Oils, lentils, beans and spices come from Sicily.
Noto says it took two years to find the right pistachio cream that he could buy directly from a producer.
“Sometimes you have to unravel several layers to get to the right one,” Noto says.
In Italy, the cream — similar in consistency to Nutella — is used in gelato base, or other desserts.
“We’ve had customers who bought a jar and came back the next day because they ate the whole jar,” Noto jokes.
Sciascia recommends it on pancakes or waffles or stuffed inside crepes or cannoli.
Noto says they hope to add hazelnut and almond creams from Sicily soon. And Noto has a summer trip planned to the Alps to look for a chocolate purveyor. Tuna is due to arrive in late May.
The delay accounts for the time it takes to clear the required paperwork necessary to import Italian goods into the U.S.
A tasting bar in the Palmer Township store allows guests to sample products before buying. The shop also hosts private tasting parties after the shop closes for the day. For $10 per person, guests can taste everything at the store, and even bring their own bottle of wine, Noto says.
Noto says they hope to add a demonstration kitchen soon.